x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Real Madrid are drawing clear at top of La Liga

Barcelona's dropped points on the road, such as at Espanyol on Sunday in the Catalan derby, could prove the difference in this season's title race.

Alvaro Vazquez, left, scored Espanyol's equaliser in the derby against Barcelona on Sunday.
Alvaro Vazquez, left, scored Espanyol's equaliser in the derby against Barcelona on Sunday.

Espanyol fans were not the only ones going crazy as the clock neared midnight in Barcelona on Sunday.

Their team's 86th-minute equaliser against their neighbours - who also happen to be the planet's greatest side - was scored by a 20-year-old local boy.

It was the stuff of dreams and sparked the greatest celebrations seen in Espanyol's stadium since it opened in 2009.

Espanyol wanted to show the world that there was more to Barcelona than Barca, that, in the words of a giant flag which hangs prominently at their smart new home: "Catalonia is more than one club."

They did that all right as Alvaro Vazquez headed the ball home. It was the highlight of Espanyol's season and - a minority of vile racist monkey noises whenever Daniel Alves touched the ball aside - was played in an atmosphere with noise levels the quiet Camp Nou can only dream of.

Not for the first time this season, Real Madrid fans celebrated Barca dropping points, while the Catalan media overlooked Espanyol's comeback and sided entirely with Barca and an alleged last-minute handball. To the Barca world, a draw is like a defeat.

Barcelona may have beaten Real in December's clasico, they may be the best team in the world with the trophies to back it up (including several more from Monday's Ballon d'Or awards), but they are now five points behind Mourinho's side as the Primera Liga nears the halfway point.

Such is the cushion, Real can afford to lose again to Barcelona and still win their first league title since 2008.

Real are relentless and rarely drop points. They destroyed Granada 5-1 at the weekend and have now scored 10 more goals than Barca. They have won 14 of their 17 games and while they have picked up two defeats to Barca's one, they have only drawn one game.

And it is the draws which are proving costly for Barca, specifically draws away from Camp Nou.

At home they are almost flawless, with seven wins and a draw, 39 goals scored and not one conceded. Away from home they have won three, drawn four and lost one.

That would be creditable in any other league, but not Spain where the champions seldom lose so many points.